MAY/JUNE 2017: BY SCARLETT GRANT
Women have a long and influential legacy in literature. From Murasaki Shikibu to Aphra Behn to Mary Shelley to Maya Angelou women have been able to tell their stories, thoughts, beliefs and dreams through writing. This history stretches further back than many believe, to a woman known as Enheduanna. She is one of the earliest authors in world history to known by name.
But we do not even know her birth name. Enheduanna is in fact a Sumerian title. “En” was the name for a High Priest/Priestess (although Enheduanna was the first woman to hold the role). “Hedu” was the word for “ornament” and “Ana” translating as “of heaven.”
Enheduanna was the daughter of Sargon of Akkad (reigned 2340 BC – 2284 BC), the founder of the Akkadian Empire, whose domain covered modern day Iraq and parts of Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Her mother is unknown, but scolars believe she was Sargon’s wife, Tashlultum, due to a lack of other evidence.
Although we don’t know the birth and death dates of Enheduanna, we know she still lived into her brother Rimush’s reign (2279 BC – 2270 BC). She may have even still served under her nephew, Naram-Sin (reigned 2254 BC – 2218 BC). In a political move, her father installed her as a High Priestess of the Moon god Nanna in the city of Ur (in southern Iraq). Her task was to keep the local population in check with religion.
Due to the amount of archaeological evidence discovered, Enheduanna was a significant and important figure in the Empire. There have also been two seals found in her name and many artifacts display her image. One famous shred of evidence was a disk discovered in 1927. It depicts Enheduanna alongside her scribe, her estate manager and her hairdresser.
Enheduanna wrote as many hymns dedicated to various temples all around the empire. Her work was the first of her kind. In fact, Enheduanna boldly state about them: “My king, something has been created that no one has created before.”
The other major work Enheduanna completed was “The Exaltation of Inanna”. Not only was this a dedication to the Goddess of Love, Wisdom, War, Fertility and Lust, it is an incredibly personal piece of work. In Exaltation not only she pay personal tribute to the Goddess, but she expresses her displeasure at her exile from the temple in the first person. This work may be the first major piece of autobiographical writing.
A rebel named Lugal-Ane led a coup which caused Enheduanna to flee in exile. However, as Enheduanna writes, the gods had heard her prayers and installed her back into her rightful place at Ur. It is possible this work was also a piece of propaganda. Her mission had been to control the local region through religion and the gods saw fit to side with Enheduanna. Who would now argue against the gods?
Even after her death, Enheduanna’s works were still being repeated and used well long after her death, almost 2,000 years later, showing the high regard she had within Ancient culture. Her influence was such that her writing led to developing our present day hymns and poems.
Her literacy importance within her time has raised questions about how well the Sumerians educated their women. After all, the ancient world was a mixed bag of female rights. While Egyptian women held a large amount of autonomy, Greek and Roman women had almost no freedom. Besides Enheduanna, other royal women were patrons of literature. But, how many of them does history recognize? Perhaps it is only Enheduanna’s talent and intelligence which strikes her out amongst the rest.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Scarlett Grant is a young graduate trying to step into the real world. When she’s not writing for Femnista, she’s focusing on her own blog: Thoughts in 500 Words. She is also an amateur history buff, with other interests in art, film, languages, music and writing.